AMES, Iowa — Instead of taking the expressway, Congress has
chosen to take the back roads on its journey to complete a new farm bill.
Despite starts and stops and detours, at least one person
watching that journey is confident that the bill will reach its destination.
“I am optimistic that we are going to get this done and get
it done this year,” said Bob Young.
For those expecting action would be taken before the Senate
and the House headed to their August recess on Aug. 2 with plans to return on
Sept. 9, Young extinguished that thought.
“Is there a reasonable chance that we’ll get this done
before August recess? No way,” he said. “At this stage in the game (on July 22),
we’ll be lucky to get to conference before we get to August recess, but there’s
no way we’re going to get this bill done before we go on August recess.”
Young, chief economist and deputy executive director of
public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, outlined the process for
members of the Iowa Farm Bureau at the group’s second economic summit at Iowa
State University in Ames.
When the final bill heads to the floor of the Senate and the
House for a vote, could it look vastly different than either the current Senate
or House version? It’s a possibility, Young said.
“Rep. (Pete) Sessions stood up on the House floor and said,
‘Look, understand the implications of us passing this legislation. If we pass
this legislation the way we’ve written it, we have zero cuts to the nutrition
program because we’re not touching it and, frankly, that’s exactly what the
legislation is that passed and sent over to the Senate — zero cuts in the
nutrition program,’” he said.
“That means when they start to negotiate the final bill,
assuming the House doesn’t do something on nutrition in the meantime, that means
the House negotiators are sitting at the table and they have zero cuts to
Young also painted a scenario in which the lack of any House
changes to nutrition programs could provide a boost to Democratic senators who
want to escape the heat of their own bill’s $4 billion in cuts to nutrition
“If you’re on the Senate side and the House decides to get a
little sticky, all you have to do as a senator is say, ‘The Senate recedes to
the House — we’ll take the House position.’ So that’s where we are.”
Young said he believes the differences in the non-nutrition
titles between the Senate-passed unified version of the farm bill and the House
commodity version are so small as to be easily resolved.
“The differences between these two pieces of legislation on
the commodity title are so small that if you really had to, I have absolutely no
doubt that (House Agriculture Committee) Chairman (Frank) Lucas and (Senate
Agriculture Committee) Chairman (Debbie) Stabenow could bring their staffs
together and say, ‘Guys, it’s 10 a.m. and we’ve got to have a deal by 5 p.m.’
They could find a way to get a deal by 5 on the commodity title, and the rest of
the bills are so close to each other that it wouldn’t take them that long to
come to agreement on what ought to be in those provisions,” he said.
In fact, Young said he and his staff believed that the House
Agriculture Committee-passed version, that went to the House floor for a full
vote on June 20, would pass. Young was preparing to travel to Texas to speak to
the Texas Farm Bureau.
“At that point in time, life was great. We were putting
together press releases about what a great job Chairman Lucas had done on
shepherding this bill through the House floor, and we were appreciating that we
were going to get to conference and get this bill done. Now, by gosh, we got
this done in the Senate and we got this done in the House and now we were going
to move on to conference and things were going to happen. Well, as you know,
things didn’t happen,” he said.
Young also outlined the role that House leadership, Speaker
of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.,
had in the routes that both the June 20 and the July 11 votes took.
“I would tell you that if the House leadership had worked
the first vote the way they worked the second vote, we wouldn’t be in this mess
that we’re in today,” Young said. “Not 30 minutes after the June 20 vote is
done, Majority Leader Cantor is down on the floor and he is basically haranguing
the Democrats for not passing this legislation.
“Now, I’m sorry, you are the leadership. You are the guy
who’s running the floor. If you can’t get the votes for a bill that your party
wants to bring to the floor, don’t go and blame the other guys after you passed
all of your amendments. This is a decision you guys made — let’s move on.”
Young noted that the nutrition lobby has provided a constant
and firm support of its position.
“When you sit down and talk with folks on the nutrition
front, that are in the nutrition program, they are just adamant that there can
be no changes, no touches, no adjustments whatever to these programs,” he
Young said that lawmakers may have started to realize that
the “Party of No” approach may not be working.
“It’s one thing for folks to be bomb-throwers. It’s another
thing for folks to get to the stage where they have to govern, and I think we’ve
got a few folks in the House who are not finding out it’s now time they have to
govern, a very different position from where some of these folks have campaigned
from and where they have run from and operated on,” he said.
He added that while lawmakers may be voting out of fear of
groups on the far right and far left, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Cato
Institute and Americans for Tax Reform on the right and the Environmental
Working Group on the left, farm and agricultural groups need to remind lawmakers
that they have expectations, too.
“I think it’s true that this has shown up as a report card
measure for several of these organizations. As you have conversations with our
own leadership, there’s a few of our leaders who are saying, ‘You know, we have
report cards, too. Who are these people, the Heritage Foundation? They’re not
local to any of our districts? Why is it that we’re worried about these guys?’
There is some of this concern about the far right and folks worried that they’re
positioned for a primary so they don’t have somebody running to the right of
them. But I think, certainly in Iowa, we have quite a few folks saying, ‘Wait a
minute, we’re here. This is us. Let’s talk about what we need,’” he said.
Young said the bill will hinge on decisions about the
nutrition titles when Congress returns.
“I would just say at this point in time when you talk about
making a forecast, give me a nutrition forecast and I’ll give you a forecast on
where the farm bill is going to go because that’s where it all is at this stage
in the game,” he said.